Father Kevin Mundackal made history in May as the first American-born Syro-Malabar priest ordained in the United States.
Ordained for the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago on May 5, the 26-year-old Thornwood native offered his First Holy Qurbana May 6 at his home parish, St. Thomas Syro-Malabar in the Bronx. The Holy Qurbana is the divine liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church.
“It’s just beautiful seeing how much the people love their priests and need their priests as well,” Father Mundackal told CNY in a July 25 telephone interview about his first assignment as associate pastor at St. Thomas Syro Malabar Cathedral in Bellwood, Ill.
“Celebrating the sacraments, preaching and being in the confessional has given me a reminder that I’m just not Kevin, but I’m Father and a priest of Jesus Christ. And with that comes a lot of responsibility and power to do good.”
Father Rajeev Valiyaveettil Philip of Tampa, Fla., was also ordained for the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, which was the first Syro-Malabar Catholic diocese outside of India.
Father Mundackal was ordained at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church in Somerset, N.J. Father Philip was ordained June 2 and is serving at St. Joseph Syro-Malabar parish near Houston.
“I never went into seminary wanting to make history,” Father Mundackal said with a laugh, adding, “the Lord gave me Father Rajeev to accompany me. I joined a year before him but we were on the journey together for most of our time in the seminary.
“Being pioneers, the Lord gave us a lot of grace to be able to take on this duty and this role.
“All of our priests, so far, have been from India, and so myself and Father Rajeev are actually born and brought up American. Even though we have Indian roots, we’re very American in our mentality and the way we carry ourselves.
“To be able to minister also to the American-born Syro-Malabar Catholics who do have Indian roots but do feel very American, that’s something that I’m looking forward to.”
The second of three sons of Tom and Valsa Mundackal was born and raised in Thornwood. His parents were born in Kerala, India, and immigrated to New York in the late 1980s.
His first parish as a child was Holy Rosary in Hawthorne. At the time, there were no Syro-Malabar parishes in the archdiocese. The family began attending St. Thomas Syro-Malabar parish upon its founding in 2002. He was an altar server and one of the high school leaders of the parish youth group and was active in a lay ecclesial movement called Jesus Youth.
“I’m greatly indebted to the Archdiocese of New York,” Father Mundackal said. “A lot of my discernment when I was in high school was done because of the Archdiocese of New York.”
A candidate of the Cathedral Prep program, he said, “It was there that I got so many resources and so many people to help me discern the priesthood.
“Thankfully, the Archdiocese of New York allowed me to stay over at the seminary in Dunwoodie for different Cathedral Prep weekends, to pray with the seminarians.”
Father Luke Sweeney, then the vocations director, was also instrumental in his formation. “Even though I was not (discerning the priesthood) for the Archdiocese of New York, he treated me as one of their own candidates. I spent my first year of seminary at the St. John Neumann Residence” before transferring to Chicago. “I have so many great memories there,” he said.
Father Jos Kandathikudy, founding pastor of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar parish, the Bronx, also has played a pivotal role in the priestly formation of Father Mundackal.
“He’s a very dynamic priest,” Father Mundackal said. “He was just so supportive of youth functions and youth programs. He really gave a lot of the youth so much freedom to allow them to know that the Church is their home.”
Father Mundackal entered the seminary in 2010, the year he graduated from Westlake High School in Thornwood.
“I’ll always stay loyal to my roots, being from New York,” he said, but conceded with a laugh, “I don’t know if I can survive long wearing a Knicks jersey here.
“Chicago is a beautiful city and there is so much to offer as well.”
He earned bachelor’s degrees in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago and theology from Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He also attended Fordham University and St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary in Kerala, India.